Monday, July 9, 2012

The amateur and the pro

When I came to LA in 1990 there was a very specific method of getting a job. First you had to find an agent, which back then wasn't really very hard. I actually had an agent before I came here but that was after I had made my Ghostkeeper movie.

Still I was nobody as far as Hollywood was concerned.

And even though I had an agent, he never really found me any work. After 2 years, which was what our contract stated, I left for another agent who didn't find me work either. Both agents just weren't in the big leagues. It took me a few until I found one who was young, eager and he liked me.

As far as the getting attention, I had a screenplay, Emperor of Mars, which I talk about frequently in this blog. Turned out that it opened doors for me, a lot of doors, studios, networks and production companies. Almost all of them from Amblin to Zucker Brothers.

But nobody wanted to make it. They wanted to either see what else I had or if I would take an assignment job. Which I did with pleasure. Ironically I got most jobs from Canada, where I had been, where I couldn't get a job anywhere.

But now that I was in LA the feeling was that I must be good. The fact is that I was the same writer but I guess, everyone looks to the other side of the hill.

Getting meetings and jobs always began by a "Meet 'n Greet", wherein you meet the development executive or sometimes the boss. It was all very orderly.

Then, around 2005 or so things changed. The tv movie was dying and now only 3 players. Suddenly a whole market almost disappeared. And jobs disappeared also. This was now the era of reality TV and big budget movies.

Then something else happened.

Film schools. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. There always were film schools, but not many, the big guys UCLA, USC, AFI, NYU and a dozen others. But now universities and colleges saw money in teaching film.

Which produced hundreds of new screenwriters.

While that was somewhat of a nuisance, after all we pros don't really want competition from the new writers, it's bad enough that most of us in WGA are unemployed anyways. One obstacle was that they had to get into WGA, which requires that you get a WGA signatory company. It isn't as easy as it sounds.

Then something else happened. Film schools began having screenplay contests. In short time other organizations also began to have screenwriting contests. They hired a few "Pro" writers to judge, made some money from the entries and paid the winner a few bucks and planned the next one.

Then other markets began to spring up, craigslist, Mandy and a dozen others of which most didn't last long. Even actors got into the act, Kevin Spacey had a website where you could post your script and read others.

Very soon there was a lot of "aspiring" writers, some of whom even called themselves writers. (I don't consider someone being a writer until they sell something, a receipe, an articlem a short story or a script, old school maybe  but I'm not alone).

And it became wide open, a war between seasoned writers with experience and amateurs of all ages who maybe took a course like the one I taught at UCLA or bought one of the many screenwriting books or even took a course with McKee.

After all that's all you really need to write your first screenplay? That and the software.

Almost overnight, competition began fiercely between the real writers and the aspiring writers. I know from my own course that less than 5 people in my total classes which amounted to around 250, were able to write something that was good, not to mention having a bit of talent and a lot of stories.

And while some WGA members worked, there was also a pool of non-WGA writers that always had found jobs. WGA has allegedly anywhere from 7000 members to 10,000. Truth is nobody knows for sure. One thing for sure is that the majority of WGA writers are not working.

While studios and networks still worked with reliable writers with considerable experience, some companies were sneaking looks at the aspiring talent pool.

But why, would you ask, would production companies even consider writers who may have won a contest or taken a single course at UCLA or USC or wherever? And what kind of production companies.

(Thurs: more on this)

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